An Interview with P. Djèlí Clark

    P. Djèlí Clark is the author of the novel A MASTER OF DJINN, and the award-winning and Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon nominated author of the novellas RING SHOUT, THE BLACK GOD’S DRUMS and THE HAUNTING OF TRAM CAR 015. His short stories have appeared in online venues such as Tor.com, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and in print anthologies including, Griots and Hidden Youth. When so inclined he rambles on issues of speculative fiction, politics, and diversity at his aptly named blog The Disgruntled Haradrim.

    I interviewed P. Djèlí Clark in a Zencastr call on 10 July 2021.


    INTERVIEWER

    When we spoke last year, RING SHOUT was already getting some pre-release buzz. How did it feel to see RING SHOUT find its audience and also to win a Nebula and a Locus Award?


    CLARK

    A big sigh of relief, because when I’d finished that story, I said, —This is a nice mess, there’s a lot in here, is this actually going to work? I think the feedback I’ve got from the readers more than anything, the feedback I’ve gotten from readers on Instagram, I call it regular people, not just the big reviewers. And everyone just tells you what they think. And it’s just floored me how much the story appealed to people. When I wrote it, it was just supposed to be a stop gap before my novel, just a small book that I thought a few people might find quirky and interesting. I was not expecting this reception. And now the awards: a Nebula and a Locus. I’m still floored by all that.


    INTERVIEWER

    And it’s on the Hugo shortlist.


    CLARK

    Yes, it is. Is there a rocket ship in my future? This is my third time being nominated for the Hugo’s. I’m happy for that in itself. And when I started writing, I had no inkling that anything I wrote would be nominated for anything. It was never a plan, it was never a hope. It wasn’t even a thought. It wasn’t even a slight glimmer of a thought. I was so focused on getting my work published and getting people to read it.


    INTERVIEWER

    And you have the amazing Kiki Layne starring in the RING SHOUT television adaptation.


    CLARK

    Yeah, can you believe it.


    INTERVIEWER

    And Skydance is making it, and they’re also making this small show called FOUNDATION.


    CLARK

    Yeah, they’re doing a few little things, like THE OLD GUARD. They did these MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movies, you might have heard of them. [Laughs]


    INTERVIEWER

    How did you hear the news with the deal and what was your reaction?


    CLARK

    Well, this was before RING SHOUT was even published, which blew me away. Before most people had received ARCs, somehow—I don’t know how the elves and goblins of Hollywood work—someone had gotten a hold of the story, or just a gist of it, a celebrity in fact, and this celebrity put out feelers and wanted to know about rights. And before I knew it, thanks in part to having a great agent, and this agent putting stuff out there, I was talking to 10 or 12 different studios. And they were telling me the things they did, and I was like, —Wow, I don’t know who you are, but I liked that show or that movie.

    And it turned into a thing, and it went through a whole legal thing, the bidding, and it ended up at Skydance. And so I knew about that before it was published. And so it was weird when the book hadn’t even been published, people were interested in looking at it for a film. And so I was nervous. What if the book then flops? Do they think they bet wrong?

    And I always tell people that knowing Hollywood, everything works at a glacial speed, and whether it ever comes out is the question. A lot of steps still have to be made before it ends up on the screen. But I’m happy with the direction it’s going so far. And the people have signed on certainly.


    INTERVIEWER

    The last time we spoke, you also mentioned that LOVECRAFT COUNTRY was on its way, and I hadn’t heard about it then. You got me on to it. And it was the best thing I saw last year. What did you think of the series?


    CLARK

    I read the book just a month before the the show came out. It was one of those books that on my TBR, I just didn’t have time, and then knowing there is a film about it, it bumps up to the top of the pile. And so I read it before and I liked the book, and I said, —Okay this looks like it’s going to be great. I wanted to see how they were going to turn this into a visual feature. It has some of the mechanics for that, the episodic mechanics, because the book itself is set in these more so vignettes than actual chapters. And each of the characters gets to take a turn, and so I thought it was perfectly made for an episodic television show.

    And what amazed me was what Misha Green and Jordan Peele and company did with that. What they did with the template of the book was just beyond anything I could have possibly imagined. Like the episode with Hippolyta. I thought, —How are they going to do this? Because the one in the book was already so fantastic. And they took it beyond even that. And so I was that person who had read the book, and so I could compare the two, and I could see where they cut some things and where they created complete new spaces. Like the episode that’s set in Korea is completely new. They basically took a hint of something in the book and just blossomed it into something else. And so I was thoroughly amazed and there was just a way in watching it just as a bit of science fiction, as a bit of pop culture, as these exposés on race and the notion of black popular culture, and it took everything to a bar and I felt that something was changing here and that for future films TV shows of this calibre, they’d set the bar. Like if you did anything beneath this, people would say, —You’re stepping backwards.


    INTERVIEWER

    And does that, and that must make you excited, but also a little bit anxious for the RING SHOUT adaptation.


    CLARK

    I am, I am. Because I don’t want to push, but I constantly say, —LOVECRAFT threw down that gauntlet, you guys can’t step back. It can’t look LOVECRAFT-lite. There were just certain things that were done. I was talking to someone the other day about how in some of those episodes, the expression of black anger was something that television shows do not do, or films don’t do. They’ll find a way to curtail it where they’ll show a bit of it, but then later on they’ll say, —Aw, shucks, I was wrong. And there was this thing that was done in here that Hollywood had never dared do before. And you can’t go back from this. You have to put it all out there the way they did and let people deal with it.


    INTERVIEWER

    Does it feel to you like TV pushing boundaries more than cinema at the moment?


    CLARK

    I guess probably because what you can do with television, the fact that you can slowly push it out, and you don’t have to be so formulaic where eventually you have to get to the climax and tell people what happens. Not all of us want Zack Snyder’s JUSTICE LEAGUE. Not everybody’s sitting for a telethon. If that was in the movies, was there a bathroom break? Was there an intermission? How do you watch that for the whole time?

    And so I think with television shows, you can roll them out over episodes and over seasons, there’s just much more you can do. There’s so much more in depth. There’s so much more room to play with. And since no one wants to do the old formulaic where each episode is its own interesting, nice little wrapped up thing and it has nothing to do with the rest. Like old STAR TREK episodes. Notice how the new STAR TREK episodes are so different, how they do flow. They’re changing that. And for PICARD there is an ongoing story rather than each story tied up with its tight little bow. And maybe there’s some overarching thing we’ll touch on later.

    I said, because of that, I think that television, I think those natural phenomenons are allowing TV shows to really push boundaries and explore things much more in depth.


    INTERVIEWER

    It isn't that whole thing where you’re on the bridge and something happens and everything wraps up. There is a different pace to it.


    CLARK

    Right. Something is happening, you get to see engineering, and then it’s all wrapped up. Maybe you touch on something big like The Borg that you can come back to later. No half the episode in the holodeck anymore as they visit Renaissance Italy or a little Irish village for the entire thing.


    INTERVIEWER

    The idea of a strong Haiti is central to THE BLACK GOD’S DRUMS and that novella really helped me as reading it shone a light on themes and history I didn’t know much about. Also, your Twitter avatar has THE BLACK JACOBINS, and I’m working my way through that true. What do you think the media is getting wrong about Haiti at the moment?


    CLARK

    What are they getting wrong about? Just about everything. I’m tired of reading things like explainers. Don’t explain. You are not in the explaining business. That’s terrible. I think there’s just a basic laziness and I think it just amazing when someone does inform them. There was something recently here on television where a reporter who explained Haiti’s debt, that France had to pay reparations and you could see the light bulbs go off on the other reporters’ heads where they were like, —Wow, really, that happened?

    And it is something that’s been known for a long time. C. L. R. James, this black Trinidadian writer in the 1930s, wrote THE BLACK JACOBINS when Haiti’s place had been basically erased and silenced in the midst of the understanding of modernity and nation states. Every time you see Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, that could easily be replaced with Haiti, the second Republic in the Western hemisphere. Because every other Republic that overthrows a monarchy or so forth in Western hemisphere comes after the United States and Haiti. Or Haiti, the first nation in the west to abolish slavery. That somehow goes to Britain? Even though Britain does it in 1834 and Haiti does it in 1801, with Toussaint Louverture’s constitution, and then finally, with independence in 1804, makes it official.

    And you would think that’s pretty monumental. And so you would think some of those could go along with who Haiti is and yet Haiti is just considered this nation that’s poor, but there’s no history on why it’s poor. There’s nothing there about its importance or how it came to be. And when I teach students about Haiti, they’re shocked. They knew something happened down there, but they are blown over when they read newspaper accounts from the 1790s and see that this was a major event that was discussed by foreign rulers and how it impacted the United States. The fact that the United States gets the Louisiana Purchase in great part due to the fact that Haiti defeats Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops and he no longer has need for all this land here. Doubles the size of the United States overnight. Just all of these little things that should be known but aren’t. And so when anything happens in Haiti today, there is this presentism, where what happened, just happened, and what happened in the past has no bearings. Or what happened in the past is so watered down that it doesn’t make sense. Like if no one knows that for instance, the United States literally occupied Haiti, in part due to that debt that it owed, it rewrote its constitution and how that played a part in modern day Haiti. What you’re doing is you’re giving people a bit of a story.

    So I think I wrote on Twitter a mocking version you could tell of United States, the way they talk about Haiti, right? The United States, once the domain of European territorial powers, had a brutal civil war that killed almost a quarter of a million people and is now in the grips of a decision between democracy and authoritarian rule. Of course people would say that’s not really the United States, that doesn’t tell us anything about it. Of course not. But that’s how people discuss Haiti.

    And there have been calls that maybe Haiti needs to lose its sovereignty. You know, wait a minute. An international mercenary team kills the president of Haiti and the first thing is that maybe they shouldn’t rule themselves. And this is like major newspapers in the United States that are calling for this. And I was like, —Did any point out that just a six months ago, the United States was overrun by a bunch of insurrectionists. And for several months, we didn’t know if if the current president would be president. Much less, everything that’s going on now with with calls to pull back democracy and voting rights. We’ve got a lot of chutzpah to decide that other nations don’t have the right to govern themselves when we’re barely holding on here.

    I thought we had escaped that STAR TREK era of strong men like Khan, but it seems that it’s arrived right on time. It seems like we all have our Khans everywhere. It’s supposed to be the 1990s, and I thought we escaped it, but oh no, they were just about 30 years off. This tilt towards it is just bizarre, people going, —You give me a strong man to rule me. What LORD OF THE FLIES version of a liberal society are we in?


    INTERVIEWER

    We need to send these Khans into space.


    CLARK

    I think it was Ceti Alpha Five where Kirk dropped them off.


    INTERVIEWER

    Let them have some fist fights with Kirk.


    CLARK

    Yeah. [Laughs]


    INTERVIEWER

    Seeing as Haiti is a topic which is very close to your heart and soul, are we going to see more stories in that THE BLACK GOD’S DRUMS worlds where you tease out some these historical and political questions?


    CLARK

    I hope so. That’s the best I can do. I write certain worlds and I don’t always know when I’m going to return to them. And like this Dead Djinn world that I’m in, when I wrote that first story, I had no intentions of writing others, and now I have an entire novel. So if that’s anything to go by, I would say that it’s likely I will, but we’ll see.


    INTERVIEWER

    I was talking to Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, an amazing writer who has written this really cool thing called The Ricepunk Manifesto. And he’s interested in this idea of hybridity and the idea of how we’re living in multicultural multipolar worlds, where you can’t say that one person is always tied to one nation. And Yudha is tackling this question of how writers writing now are writing within these multicultural worlds, and he refers to 10,000 utopias each describing different ways of seeing the world in a better way. How do you feel your writing fits into this sortn of utopian project?


    CLARK

    That’s a good question. I think so often, whether it’s something like THE BLACK GOD’S DRUMS or DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO, when there’s this alternate world that’s a big what if, —What if this thing had changed? How do I create these counterfactuals? And at the end of the day, counterfactuals are inherently nonsense, unfortunately, because we only know the history that happened. Everything else is simply something we imagined. And so I always tell students when I talk about world-building, —Don’t worry about how your world came to be, just be able to sell it. Historians are never going to nitpick your counterfactual because counterfactuals are inherently all, to be quite honest, nonsense, right? However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important because at the end of the day the most important thing in a counterfactual is why you decided to change this certain event. What does it mean to you? What are you trying to tell us?

    And so in THE BLACK GOD’S DRUMS everything is centered around Haiti, and obviously there I’m talking about the importance of Haiti. I want people to think about the importance of Haiti and understand its importance in our real world, by creating this counterfactual narrative. And in A DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO, I’m looking at anticolonialism, and I’m asking the question of what happens if certain nation states are allowed to determine their own being and determine their own sovereignty. How does that change how we think of the past? And how does that influence how we think about our own history of colonialism and imperialism? And so in many ways I’m not really creating utopias, right? As much as I’ve heard people say —Oh, I’d like to live in this era of the DEAD DJINN world with magic and everything else. And I have people call it a utopia. But it’s not and when you peel it back and you read the story, it still has all of the problems that humanity has. There’s still issues of difference and issues of bias and issues of gender and issues of class, intersectionality—all those things still exist. All that’s been given here is the ability for these people to try to negotiate those things on their own terms, without the interference of a European imperial power and all of the things that brings with it.

    So I suppose what often that’s telling me, by people calling this a utopia, is how much many people who are marginalised, how much many people who are on the receiving end of colonization, of the others, how little it takes for something to become a utopia. Simply a bit of self-determination, that's utopia enough. Whether one gets it right or wrong, that’s utopia enough. And whenever I create these worlds, I never create them perfect. Maybe they all come with their inherent problems, but they do offer people who are often disempowered, who often not left a voice or are considered on the periphery, what these stories do is simply make them the center of the story. It gives them that voice. It gives them that power. What they’re going to do with it, however, is still part of the human project.


    INTERVIEWER

    Have you given much thought to how the worlds in THE BLACK GOD’S DRUMS and A DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO would develop after the stories you’ve told? How they would develop and change towards the 21st century?


    CLARK

    It’s funny, I have pondered it, but I’ve never written it, and I don’t think I would because I write the past. I don’t write too much future or present. But I had fun with that. How would those worlds look. And I don’t know. In * * * there is the hint of World War One around the corner. Can we head it off or is that going to happen? Is that something that will happen? And if so, what does that lead to? You can’t have something that massive and not create a wound on the world in many ways. And I don’t know how different these worlds would be from ours altogether. Even if you may rearrange where the power dynamics lay, they may still have their own problems.

    And I’m taking it back to STAR TREK, of course, and I like the Picards and the Discoveries, because while we tended to think of Gene Roddenberry’s future as a utopia, and yet when you think about it, the Federation also has all these problems. It turns out in addition to all the inter-special problems, with people from other places, but they also have problems at home. And it turns out that humans or non-humans are still dealing with all of the interpersonal issues that people deal with. And I would hope that any of these worlds I create would be better than the ones we have now in many ways, but I wouldn’t call them a utopia. I don’t think everybody will be wearing all white with versions of MacBook flittering about.


    INTERVIEWER

    What I like about your books is this powerful sense that you’re looking at both sides, and as you mentioned those questions of women’s rights and also of different kinds of blackness, the colourism in Egypt.


    CLARK

    Yeah, forms of colourism, forms of race. I’m going back to C. L. R James here and his writing of THE BLACK JACOBINS. When he writes this in the 1930s, he’s looking at a world where European imperialism is everywhere, but they just had this grievous world war and he can probably see the echoes of a new strife that’s about to show up, right, because these imperial powers are going to be at each other’s throats. And he decides that the story of Haiti, even even though this revolution has been overlooked for, by his time, a hundred and some 30 years, is a very good template for understanding the anti-colonial struggle that is to come

    And also, I believe he’s looking at what comes after the revolution. Once you’ve thrown off this yolk, how do you knit together a new nation and what problems do you then face? And so if you look at that, and then we look at our own anti-colonial world, everyone was united a bit when everyone was struggling against the colonizers were gone—sort of, we haven’t gotten into neocolonialism yet. The colonisers were at least in some ways physically gone, but there was still a lot of problems left behind. This is what Nigerian writers like Chinua Achebe write about in his own works; the lingering filaments of colonization continued. And then people also dealt with their own traditional problems that had always existed before colonialism came.

    And so all of those issues will continue into the post-colonial—post-colonial said almost with quotation marks. And I look at these worlds in a senses as places where you still have to deal with all those things. They don’t end. And our own world shows that. There are many places in the world. I can think of a place that’s like an Africa and elsewhere where people had grand ideas of what was to come, and sometimes terrible things came instead. We can go around the world, whether it’s the partition of India and Pakistan and others, like the birth of some of these nations, cause huge disruptions, And destruction, with the, because of the lingering impacts of colonialism and everything else in these regions. And I didn’t want to paint these Pollyanna ish societies. I still wanted to show these that we’re having these struggles and you only have to look to our own world to see them.


    INTERVIEWER

    The action in A MASTER OF DJINN centres on Cairo, but the novel is planetary. It is in no way taking place in a bubble. And there is a great use of Otto von Bismarck, with the goblin on his shoulder. When you were building out that world, how much planning were you doing on that geopolitical level?


    CLARK

    With worldbuilding, when you’re planning out that large alt world, you have to think about what’s happening—I think you’re right—beyond the scene that you’re talking about, but you have to pay attention to those scenes. And so if I’m dealing with, in this case, Germany and there’s going to play a central role that I think more about, I think more about those, more about what’s happening in France, more about what’s happening, let’s say in Turkey or in my last book Armenia. I’m going to think about those more because they’re going to play some kind of role, even if a small role within the book. So those I think about.

    Then I have the things that I’m not thinking about at all in the middle of writing. I might say, —Hey, what’s happening in the United States, I haven’t said much on that. What’s happening in Latin America or what’s happening somewhere in Africa. And then I’ll mention it, and I haven’t even thought it through. And I know sometimes when I’m putting out a marker here, if I have to come back, I’ve laid something down if I need to come back here. But I haven’t given it much thought. And so the things that I need to focus on, they’re essential to the story. I’m going to think about a bit, but other things just come up when I’m writing and I might just write them.

    And I sometimes laugh about, I always bring up, from THE BLACK GOD’S DRUMS, a scene where I mention Californians with a K in their peculiar Russian dress. And people have asked me, —What does that mean? And I said, —Did it get you thinking? Well, yeah, that’s about it. I have not thought any more about how that came to be, but I’ve done it. And so now if I ever returned to California, I’m going to have to explain exactly why there are Russians in Kalifornia. That’s going to be interesting.


    INTERVIEWER

    I enjoyed the reference to Buddy Bolden and the proto-funk and jazz.


    CLARK

    Yeah, it’s funk as well as well as jazz. It’s the proto-jazz era. He’s doing fantastic things with that New Orleans sound. In some ways, yeah. I knew that—I’m going to give away some things here—I knew that the Jasmine, the club the Jasmine, it’s unknown, but it’s all rumours, but it’s thought, perhaps, that the word jazz comes from Jasmine. And the story goes that in New Orleans this was the perfume worn by sex workers at bordellos where a lot of these early musicians got their start, and so the going story is that jazz is short for jasmine. That’s one story. It’s a popular one. I can’t vouch for it or say it’s absolute, but that’s a popular story in New Orleans. And so I’m playing around there with this club called the Jasmine. There are these New Orleans musicians they’re doing this music that hasn’t gotten a name yet, alright. And it’s cause we’re right on the cusp of the jazz era. As I always tell my students, whenever an era starts, it’s not like people jumped up and said, —Hey, let’s Renaissance. I always point out there are steps leading up to it.

    You can talk about the long jazz era. And if so, then you have to go back to earlier forms of ragtag and these things. And and so I’m basically playing around with figures like Buddy Bolden, who are considered these precursors to the modern jazz era, these musicians that come out of New Orleans, who come out of these clubs, who will later name what they do ‘jazz’, but right now it’s just a New Orleans sound. And so all this is to say, when I first started, I just knew I wanted these jazz figures and I made them up as I was writing. And as I did, so I guess the historian in me said, I’m going to bring up some Buddy Bolden.

    I also pulled up a reference to a figure named Robert Charles, if anyone looks at up, who’s also a prominent figure that ends up in a black day, laborer in New Orleans who runs a foul of the police. And that’s off a massive riot in which many black people are forced to flee the city. Robert Charles himself is killed, but not before he basically makes this one man stand against a mob of hundreds. And so he becomes like almost a legend among a lot of black musicians, many of them who are forced to flee New Orleans. Figures like Jelly Roll Morton tell the story of Robert Charles and they sing stories and ballads to him and they make him much more legendary, but the story itself becomes this traumatic event, and it’s this event that causes many of these musicians to hop on tram lines and end up in places like Chicago and elsewhere bringing their music to all these different places. And so I wanted to throw a little bit of that in there, and of course I’ve put a little magic in to it as well. That’s the side of me who can’t help but play around with those things and throw a few bits in.


    INTERVIEWER

    You were talking about post-colonialism, quote unquote, and there is fun bit in the novelk about how the magic in the Ganges has come out and the British are on the run, and I thought it must have been fun to write all that.


    CLARK

    Yeah. All this stuff is always cathartic. I think I’ve said this many times, but the origin of A DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO lay somewhere between Edward Said’s ORIENTALISM and Gillo Pontecorvo’s film, THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS. And to make it fun. And so I every bit I get where I show that the imperial powers are on the run, if not completely defeated, I like to do it. And it isn’t fully won yet, but the British are certainly on their heels. And there’s a lot of different things I point out there. And there’s also an insurgency in the west of native Americans, if anyone paid attention to it in the United States.


    INTERVIEWER

    It’s a really great audio book. I’ve been having a lot of good luck with audiobooks recently.


    CLARK

    Oh yeah, I’m listening to that too, it’s superbly done. It’s almost like I’m listening to the old Orson Welles show because she does every voice. Sometimes I have to remind myself, —Oh, this is one person.


    INTERVIEWER

    Your books are always really funny. Sometimes physical humour, like the great line about the guy nodding so fast, his ears flapped. And the pairing of Hadia, this rookie cop, with Fatma, who knows much more, is a great source of humour. And there’s also a lot of going on in that relationship. How did you come up with Hadia?


    CLARK

    It’s interesting, I think when I did THE HAUNTING OF TRAM CAR 015 I just knew immediately I want to do the good old rookie trope. I always say, —Don’t worry about tropes, your job is just to sell the trope. Tropes are popular for a reason—they work either. Just have to not be too cliche. And so I had done that with right as the as the rookie and so forth. And so when I was thinking that it was just some continuation, I said how am I going to explain to Fatma? I was just out here by herself all the time. That’s not gonna fly. How’s she going to get away from that? But I knew instantly she’s going to have to have someone who’s a partner. And I thought about it for a bit. And Hadia as a character just emerged and I don’t know, partly it emerged because in a weird way, many people’s interest in Fatma as this figure, and she’s wearing suits and she has this modernity. And a part of me while I liked that was a bit perturbed by readings I would have or interactions with people who saw her as the opposite of what they considered a quote unquote traditional woman of that time period. As if I was making a statement about her not wearing hijab or something of that sort. And I was like, —No, I wasn’t, I just liked the suits, and she likes the suits, but I could see how people could take it that way.

    And so I don’t know if I was consciously doing this, but I think as I was writing, I thought Hadia is going to represent a bit of Egypt that is similar yet different from Fatma. So she’s a character who may be a bit more traditional in dress and may be a bit more traditional about religion, and yet on the other hand she is perhaps more politically radical than Fatma. And so I wanted to complicate that. I didn’t want to make her one thing which is reifying what people had thought. She is the straight, traditional woman, and Fatma is completely modern. I’m gonna subvert that a bit. So she may have traditional dress, but she has much more political radical leanings than Fatma, who at times can be even apolitical because she’s so driven by her work. That’s how Hadia came about and she became a delightful character to write, to give Fatma someone to speak to and to think about how they would get along and how they might not get long. How would someone like a young Fatma exist in this ministry? And so it was intriguing to write her.


    INTERVIEWER

    I think many fictional detectives are apolitical, right? They don’t always talk about political ideology. The work is their ideology.


    CLARK

    It takes so much thinking, how do you have time? So I remember says, who has time for Paul? I’m so busy. You don’t always think about, there are people like that. Like I said, I might be interested in what’s happening in the news and other people I am completely absorbed in this thingm I’m doing. I don’t possibly have time to see what’s happening in the news because this thing I’m doing takes all my time. And that’s the one thing about Fatma. Describe her character. She’s very driven. Once she gets like her teeth on something, she wants to figure it out. That’s going to consume her. And I just wanted to make our character who is driven that way, but there are others who might be more political. Like people like idea. Who’s also been younger at that.


    INTERVIEWER

    And how was the experience of writing this book, generally?


    CLARK

    It was a delight writing this book. I actually enjoyed it. I knew for the most part where I was going, I sketched it out and I got to write it mostly over a summer where I was traveling. So some of this was written sitting in Barbados on the beach. Some of it was written sitting up on the top floor on the top floor of my favorite hotel in Havana, Cuba watching the lightning storm off the ocean. I mean, just great inspiration. And so in that summer where there was just a lot going on I had that freedom to write when I could.


    INTERVIEWER

    You did an interview for the Los Angeles Public Library and you mentioned Run the Jewels was helping you to write one project. Do you often listen to music while you write?


    CLARK

    Sometimes. It’s less when I write than when I am imagining and always write something. I’m probably imagining it. So I’m jogging or I’m working out or I’m cleaning up or I’m, doing whatever I’m doing. And I might be listening to some music and sometimes that music helps inspire. There was a story I recently wrote and there were literally certain songs from Run the Jewels. And I needed an intense fight scene and it just worked perfectly. It was from the last album, in fact. It might’ve been ‘Yankee and the Brave’, but it was just the rhythm of it. I would listen to it whenever I had to do the fight scene, because I could imagine the fight scene to this music. So sometimes the music may help that way.

    When I was doing RING SHOUT, I was jogging a lot thinking it up. And I was running in the morning listening to Lupe Fiasco’s DROGAS WAVE, which is basically based on the slave trade, the entire album. So from the beginning to the end are these elements of the slave trade and its importance and some of it was mesmerizing. And there was this one song that is simply about a slave traders and what happens in a revolt on a slave ship. And I remember I would listen to that, like just redo it on repeat, over and over, and somehow that would help me get into the mood on what I want to say about RING SHOUT and you also songs. Sometimes they inspire me directly. And sometimes it’s indirectly and just the feeling of it. But less so when I’m writing, because if I’m writing, it’s hard for me to concentrate—I’ll get lost in the music. I’ll probably stop it when I actually sit down to write.


    INTERVIEWER

    And you were talking about Run the Jewels in relation to the undead assassin book or something else?


    CLARK

    Yeah, the undead assassin book. There were some fight scenes and Run the Jewels was perfect.


    INTERVIEWER

    Can you talk about that book at all?


    CLARK

    Yeah, I can talk about it. It took me a long time to get published. I’ve been writing and getting stuff rejected for 20 years, and it wasn’t a story where my first book was a success. Absolutely not. I have a lot of stuff that’s sitting on hard drives that never went anywhere.

    And it It’s really funny that the books that have gotten popular for me have been the alternate world, counterfactuals, or things like RING SHOUT set in this world with a bit of horror. And I’ve gotten invited to all these horror anthologies. But I imagined RING SHOUT as a fantasy. There’s a reason I’ve laced nearly everything I do with magic, is that fantasy is my first love. I’m going to sit and read all of Robert Jordan’s books over again. I grew up on RIFTWAR SAGA and THE BELGARIAD and THE MALLOREON. These are the things I fall into when I just want to read something and enjoy it fully. That’s my escape—full on fantasy. And the undead assassin is my return to just fantasy. It’s completely secondary world. It’s not set in Paris or in Cairo. No. It’s completely secondary. I do everything except give you two moons.


    INTERVIEWER

    There’s still time.


    CLARK

    I do have a story with two moons, but I think if you give two moons, you have to use those two moons. You can’t just put them in. Those two moons better have some impact on the story in some way.


    INTERVIEWER

    Chekhov’s moons.


    CLARK

    Exactly. And this secondary world is quote unquote medieval, whatever you want to call that in fantasy. And I know we always say medieval set, but I think of Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT where Gandalf is dressed like he’s in the 13th century but the hobbits dress like they’re in the 19th century, but we call it medieval. I just gotta to go with that. So yeah, let’s say it’s pre-industrial, I think that’s a better word. It’s a pre-industrial society. And it is about an undead assassin who is given an impossible job. That’s the best I can tell you without giving them away. There’s a little JOHN WICK in there.


    INTERVIEWER

    Changing tack a little, there is a lot of excellent middle grade fiction out. And the people like Russia is it Rachini Chuck think Traci and karma Belia and tell. Okay. Ma yeah. So I’ve come across loads of this cool stuff. And speaking, purely hypothetically, if you were writing a middle-grade series or a young adult series what are some of the stories you’d want to tell


    CLARK

    Ah, boy, wouldn’t it be great if I had a super secret middle grade project that going to be announced sometime soon. Wouldn’t that be interesting? That would be interesting. This is just a hypothetical.

    I think when I was younger, I think back to what got me into fantasy were a lot of works like Madeleine L’Engle’s books and Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. I love stories with young characters where its a portal fantasy, or they are in their village and something takes them out of their village, and they can’t have parents around. It’s funny, the parents are always missing. And Philip Pullman said that the reason is with parents around, they’d stop them running off to defeat the Dark Lord or what have you. So you’ve got to find a way to push the parents aside so that the young person can have their adventure. What young person wants to drag their parents along with an adventure? And I said, —Yeah, absolutely, how had I’d forgotten that.

    And so it would probably be a story like Kwame Mbalia’s or others, where young people are centered and it’s them taking on the world. And it has to be epic. The stakes have to be big. I like it when the stakes are big. That’s the kind of story I would love to tell.

    If you’re a young person, like when I was smaller, it was THE NEVERENDING STORY or THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, where you’re either in this world or you’re in another world, but you have to cross that threshold and you’re thrust into this new adventure where you have to figure out how you’re going to survive and how you’re going to win in the end.


    INTERVIEWER

    It sounds like you have a really clear vision of what you would write.


    CLARK

    It’s almost like I have a whole story already done and they’e just waiting to announce it or something. It’s weird, huh?


    INTERVIEWER

    Do you write every day? And how do you balance the fiction and the academic work and being with your toddlers and your own sanity?


    CLARK

    I don’t know how I manage it, but I do not write every day, I can tell you that much. My worst thing is procrastination. So for instance, RING SHOUT I got the okay to do sometime in April, and I knew it was due in September. August comes around and I still haven’t started. So I wrote that in a quick four weeks because it was due.

    But the last book I wrote, the assassin novel, I was supposed to have that in in January, and I did not get it in until May. So things can go either way in terms of how long a thing can take. I would like to say I’m the kind of person who was really ordered, like I was talking to Victor LaValle and he has a set time when he writes and I thought, —You’re great. But I just try to find a moment when I can. And when something is due I will tend to procrastinate and then I have to start, I have to defeat the blank page, which is the worst a monster in the world. Because it’s hard to get those first words down. And when I do, when I have a project, then yes, then I’ll start writing and I’ll try to, I’ll try to write every day if I can. But in between, like right now, and I’m just no—no writing. I’m fine. This is why I get to walk THE EXPANSE.

    And edits are so very different, because it I’m editing something, that is so much easier to me, even if I have to think up new things, I’m given challenges. But then here’s a blank page. Start that story. Get it done. That’s a different beast.


    INTERVIEWER

    Some people talk about editing as they write, and Joe Lansdale was talking about basically writing and editing, writing and editing, and then you end up with a draft ready to send. And then other people will write a draft which is maybe chaotic and then go back to the beginning and spend a lot of time fixing it up. Where are you on that kind of spectrum?


    CLARK

    I tend to write and edit sometimes because I’ll need to come back and read what I’ve last written to get back into the story. And so I just naturally end up editing it. But if I’m crazy rushed for time, like when I was trying to get RING SHOUT done, I didn’t have time. I was just writing. And I remember I was writing so fast, I thought, —I might’ve gotten that name wrong, or I don’t know if I spelled the name the same way, I hope this makes sense. And I was just pushing it. But most times I try to edit as I go along. And then before I send it off, I do an edit, ‘cause I would like to give people something like a clean draft. But all that being said at the end of the day, once notes come back, it’s going to have more revisions.


    INTERVIEWER

    I saw you recommend CREATURES OF PASSAGE by Morowa Yejidé. I liked the vibe of the Audible sample and then I was hooked when I saw the line about the 1967 Plymouth Belvedere with a ghost in the trunk.


    CLARK

    You gotta read that. And the audio is very good, the author herself narrates it. I’m amazed. I could never do that. People have said I could, but I’m never narrating anything, ever. It is never going to happen. So Morowa Yejidé does a great job narrating the story and it is just very haunting. If you’re familiar with that area too, the Washington, DC, DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area, it gives a little extra oomph, but you don’t have to be. It’s still a very haunting story. It’s chilling. There are parts where I had to put it down for a second because it’s too much. But I still recommended it. It’s so imaginative. And the prose is so lyrical, and when when you read prose that’s lyrical, it’s like you’re reading poetry almost. Every word seems to have been perfectly chosen and it is one of those books that I think should be getting a lot more press.


    INTERVIEWER

    And is there anything else that you’d like to signal picks any other writers or books that you’ve been reading that you think other people should be reading too?


    CLARK

    Let’s see. Cadwell Turnbull’s NO GODS, NO MONSTERS. I think that is something that a lot of people of going to find is of interest. I have so many books on my TBR. I haven’t read as much this summer as I wanted to.


    INTERVIEWER

    And do you get sent a lot to blurb?


    CLARK

    Oh yeah, I’ve got quite a few things to blurb. But I’m not mentioning them yet. I don’t want to mention them beforehand. But I did enjoy THE UNBROKEN by C. L. Clark. Another Clark, no relation. No relation to that Clark. But I did like that.


    INTERVIEWER

    I haven’t read it, but C. L. Clark is also dealing with, inverted commas, post-colonial ideas, right?


    CLARK

    Yeah, there’s something of that as well. That was one of the more interesting books I think I’ve read this summer. And I also finally got a chance to read and N. K. Jemisin’s THE CITY WE BECAME, which was of course amazing.

    And SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN is on my list and I’ve read Tasha Suri’s earlier books and I always read Zen Cho’s work and I’m looking forward to BLACK WATER SISTER. And I love her books with the dragons and everything else. Georgiana Without Ruth, I love those. This is a different one but I can’t wait to check it out.

    So I have all these new books, and then I have the stuff I like to finish. I just finished THE POWDER MAGE trilogy by Brian McClellan which I’d gotten into and those are my fun books. Like the Malazan books. And one of those can book can take forever, they’re just so long. Those books are the ones I just fall into. And I see Brian Staveley—he of the giant birds books—has another one out, so I might check that out. That kind of stuff is what I just enjoy falling in to.

    And I’ve been collecting the Robert Jordan books as hardbacks and I want those original covers, so I’ve been trying to hunt those down. Of course he dies before he even finished, so the rest are finished by Brandon Sanderson.


    INTERVIEWER

    Are you a fan of Brandon Sanderson?


    CLARK

    I can’t even. I got through two books of the Stormlight Archive and I know the third one is sitting there waiting for me, but I need a break. I want to get to it, but woah, can he pack a lot into a book. That’s a lot of work.